It’s not exactly mind over matter, but a recent study involving cardiologists with the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute demonstrated that people with hypertension exercised more if they could check their blood pressure before and after the workout.
The first-of-its-kind study, conducted by a team from the University of Connecticut and Hartford Hospital, was published in the Journal of Hypertension. The study, according to Dr. Antonio Fernandez, a Hartford Hospital cardiologist, followed a group of 24 adults with high blood pressure in a 12-week supervised, moderate aerobic exercise training program. Half used a device to monitor their blood pressure.
“Not only did we notice the people exercised more if they were checking their blood pressure, but we also saw a greater reduction in their blood pressure at end of the 12 weeks,” said Dr. Fernandez, who participated in the study with Dr. Paul Thompson, chief of cardiology emeritus at Hartford Hospital.
High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and providers encourage exercise as one way to address the problem. Exercise is known to lower blood pressure an average of five to seven points, an effect that lasts almost 24 hours. He said, however, the challenge is that the effect isn’t easily recognized by the patient.
“We found that monitoring and seeing lower numbers right after a bout of aerobic exercise motivates patients with elevated blood pressure to continue to exercise,” Dr. Fernandez said, noting that making a link between behavioral health and physical health in this way is “unusual.”
“Behavioral health strategies are integral part of our efforts to overcome barriers that hamper patient adherence to effective therapies,” he explained. “One of the most frequent challenges we encounter in clinical practice is the lack of patient engagement in their own treatment.”
In the study, he added that the participants spent 40 minutes on a treadmill at moderate intensity three times a week, and were encouraged to exercise on their own in between. Both groups saw blood pressure reductions after the 12 weeks, but the self-monitoring group realized a 10-point drop, which was almost double the other group.
Four weeks after the supervised exercise program ended, participants were asked about their exercise habits, with about 75 percent reporting some degree of exercise. Those who were self-monitoring their blood pressure, however, maintained about 70 percent of their previous exercise volume in comparison with about 30 percent in the other group.
Sixty percent of the self-monitoring group were still measuring their blood pressure regularly and exercising about 45 minutes at least three days a week. Those not monitoring their blood pressure were exercising for about 19 minutes one day a week.
“Monitoring the blood pressure before and after exercise provides the patients with an immediate reward for their efforts,” Dr. Fernandez said. “Seeing with their own eyes a lower blood pressure measurement can keep them motivated and adherent to exercise routines as a way to decrease their blood pressure.”
The researchers want to study a larger group, and he stressed the overall health value of exercise.
“The effect of this intervention on adherence to exercise could also have additional benefits in weight reduction, improving glucose control in diabetics and mental stress reduction, among others,” Dr. Fernandez said. “Novel behavioral health interventions such as the one devised in this study could be the key to effectively engage our patients in their own care.Similar interventions could, ultimately, have an enduring effect in the treatment of other chronic cardiovascular risk factors.”
For more information on treatment for high blood pressure at the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute, click here.